Making sauerkraut

We have an abundance of Chinese cabbage this year; it matured a little too late for market, so I’m finding ways to preserve it. These are huge heads, weighing over 3 pounds each, and I’m loath to waste them. So I’m trying them in sauerkraut. I’ve made kraut before, but only with European cabbages. I don’t know if there will be a difference, but this is the only way to find out.

My kraut recipe is based on an old European technique called lacto-fermentation (read more toward the end of this post). The ideal method is to pack the cabbage tightly into a large crock with salt and optional spices, let it ferment openly, and eventually pack it into jars. Last year, I tried a simpler version that packed directly into jars, and it came out pretty well, if a bit too salty.

So this year I’m using the same method, though varying the levels of salt and spice per jar to better calibrate the method for future use. The cabbage is chopped finely and packed into the sterilized jars, with 1-3 tsp of salt mixed in along with varying numbers of bay leaves and juniper berries. When the jars are full, a bit of hot water is added before lidding the jars. I’ll leave them in a warm place for a while, rotating the jars between upside-down and rightside-up, to get the fermentation started. After that, they can be stored in the basement for months.

That’s the idea, anyway, as laid out in our official guide to lacto-fermentation, Keeping Food Fresh. I don’t consider this post a recipe, exactly, as it’s something we’re still experimenting with and I couldn’t promise that this will work right. But I love kraut, was pretty pleased with last year’s version, and have high hopes for this batch. The nice thing about items like kraut is that if they do spoil, you’ll know as soon as you open the jar. Otherwise, if it just smells like kraut, you’re likely fine. Of course, some people like Joanna would argue that there’s no difference between spoiled and good sauerkraut in the first place. Can’t win ’em all…

3 thoughts on “Making sauerkraut

  1. Eric,Have you given any thought to trying to make (Korean) kim chi with all your excess Chinese cabbage? I am pretty sure that is the type of cabbage typically used to make this Asian hot and spicy version of kraut…i’d be happy to help you taste test :)fwiw…

  2. I’ve given it thought…I do love kimchi, at least the versions I’ve had. I have never done it before and need to do some research. In this case, I went with the kraut because we have piles and piles of produce harvested right now due to an imminent killing frost, and we have been trying to work through using/packing/preserving what we can while it’s still good. So researching kimchi was out compared to a known recipe. When things settle down I still expect to have a few large heads left, and that would definately be a possibility.

  3. I was going to make the same suggestion of kim chi…I have never made it, but I know it’s an easy method (essentially, combine, let sit and ferment, eat). Of course, getting the right flavours and heat could be a (fun) challenge.